Category Archives: Publication

Giving up Twitter for Lent: How and Why We Take Breaks from Social Media

This research explores whether Twitter users who tweeted that they were giving up Twitter for Lent actually did so. It investigates why people look to take breaks from social media and what the underlying concerns they have are.

To what extent are social media users able to manage their own social media use?

  • 64% of users who expressed intent to give up Twitter for Lent on Twitter successfully did so
  • Among the remaining 36%, 13.3% (or 5% of the total group) only tweeted one or two times during the Lenten period

Twitter users hedge about taking breaks, meaning that they talk about taking a break on Twitter but don’t expression intention to actually do so
In a weak moment I thought about giving up twitter and facebook for lent but I’m not strong enough #goodluck
I don’t know how people are giving up twitter for lent #addicted
I thought about giving up Twitter for #lent until I realized the first thing I want to do about this decision is tweet it. #irony
Thought about giving up Twitter for lent, but then I thought… Jesus didn’t give up on his followers. So I won’t #BitchesBePreachin’
I was thinking about giving up twitter for lent.. But I don’t think it’s physically possible for me to go a day without tweeting.

Hedging Word Tree "I was" Hedging Word Tree "I thought"

What factors drive social media users to consider taking breaks from social media?

  • Spending too much time on social media
  • Tradeoffs of not spending time elsewhere
  • Social media versus “real life”


  • Tweets: 3 years of tweets from users who tweeted about giving up Twitter for Lent and their subsequent behavior
  • Interviews: Interviews with 12 social media users recruited from craigslist

It is difficult to interpret intention from tweets. Interviewing users who had tweeted about giving up Twitter soon after they tweeted this would help us to better understand their intentions. Recruiting interview participants from craigslist produces a biased sample.

For more details, please read the full paper

Schoenebeck, S.Y. (2014). “Giving up Twitter for Lent: How and Why We Take Breaks from Social Media.” In Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’14). Toronto, Canada. April 26-May 1, 2014.

How Parents of Children with Special Needs Use Social Media

This research explored how parents of children with special needs use social media.

Parents join two types of online groups:

  • case-based groups for shared interests (e.g. ADHD, autism)
  • geographically-based groups for local interests (e.g. local school policies)

Parents feel more judged offline than online:
Parents of children with special needs find offline interactions (with family, strangers, friends and colleagues, teachers, coaches, etc.) more judgmental than online interactions (on Facebook, Yahoo! Groups, etc.)

Among parents who use Facebook:

  • 40% frequently post statuses about their child with special needs
  • 34% frequently post photos of their child with special needs
  • About 30% post articles, campaigns, or medical information

Parents perceive some kinds of Facebooking about children with special needs to be more appropriate than other kinds

  • Parents perceive Facebook statuses containing humor to be more appropriate than Facebook statuses containing judgment or violence
  • Parents perceive posts to Facebook groups about achievement to be more appropriate than posts about alternative treatments or social comparisons.

Why it Matters
About 1 in 6 children are diagnosed with some kind of special need in the United States every year. Receiving these diagnoses can be emotionally and economically demanding for the child, their siblings, and their parents. Understanding where parents find information and social support online and to what extent they experience judgment and social stigma offline and online can help us design social media sites to better support their needs.

Data Sources

  • Interviews with 18 parents of children with special needs recruited via convenience sampling and snowball sampling
  • Surveys with 205 parents of children with special needs recruited via nationally representative sampling

Results are biased towards parents who are willing to participate in an interview or complete a survey. They may be more likely to be involved in their children’s needs and may be more likely to be active in special needs causes. They are also subject to self-report biases.

For more details, please read the full paper

Ammari, T., Morris, M.R., Schoenebeck, S.Y. (2014). “Accessing Social Support and Overcoming Judgment on Social Media among Parents of Children with Special Needs..” In AAAI International Conference on Weblogs and Social Media 2014 (ICWSM ’14). Ann Arbor, MI, June 1-4, 2014.

This research was approved by University of Michigan’s Institutional Review Board HUM00074842.

Facebook Use in Developing Regions*

How is Facebook used in urban and rural Kenya?

Access to Facebook and use of Facebook is limited, including:

  • limited access to computers and smartphones
  • unreliable electricity

To overcome costs, participants go to Facebook to try to generate income by:

  • looking for employment
  • marketing themselves
  • and seeking money from friends and family abroad


  • Interviews with 28 young adults living in an informal settlement, or slum, in Nairobi, Kenya
  • 24 interviews at Internet cafés in rural Kenya


Both studies were ethnographic in nature and studied a small sample of users. Findings are representative of trends and patterns of behavior associated with a particular set of participants and experiences. The complexities surrounding race, gender, colonialism, and constraints including financial, technical, and infrastructural ones cannot be fully represented in an exploratory study.

*This research was led by Dr. Susan Wyche at Michigan State University. The bulk of the credit for this work belongs to her. 

For more details, please read this paper <a title=”Hustling Online: Understanding Consolidated Facebook Use in an Informal Settlement in Nairobi” href=””>full paper</a> and <a title=”Facebook is a Luxury”: An Exploratory Study of Social Media Use in Rural Kenya” href=””>this paper</a>

The Secret Life of Online Moms

Understand how mothers participate online anonymously on a large scale

What is
YouBeMom is an anonymous message board for parents. YouBeMom is both supportive (similar to sites like iVillage and and critical (similar to sites like and YouBeMom is unique in that it has no profile images, no usernames, no pseudonyms, and no advertisements. Posts contain a variety of shortcodes such as dd (dear daughter), ds (dear son), and dcs (dear children).

Data Sources

  • Ethnographic-style observation of YouBeMom site
  • Dataset (collected by crawling the site) of 4,828,815 posts and 47,748,793 comments posted between 2008-2012

Moms post about family and home life:

  • Over 5% of posts on YouBeMom are about children (e.g. dd, ds, dcs)
  • Almost 5%–over 400,000–of posts contain references to “dh” (which refers to “dear husband”)
  • Yet, only about .0005%–or 58–posts contain explicit references to “dear husband”

Posts about “dear husband” are more negative than other posts

  • Posts that refer to “dh” are more angry than other posts
  • Post that refer to “dh” are more negative than other posts
  • Posts about money co-occur with “dh” more than other posts


  • Moms go online anonymously to vent frustrations about family life and everyday life
  • Online sites may offer a platform for coping and providing social support
  • Even though flaming is common, YouBeMom remains popular (as do other similar anonymous parenting sites)

Why Study Moms?
Parenting support boards are immensely popular. Sites like and see millions of visitors and views every month. On these sites moms use real names or pseudonyms when they post comments to each other. Moms find a different kind of social outlet on YouBeMom than they might find in other parts of their daily lives. This gives them a place to share questions, anxieties, and even fantasies, that they might not feel comfortable sharing face-to-face or on a site like Facebook.

Why Study Anonymity?
On “real name” sites like Facebook, people may not always want to admit failures or weaknesses, or reveal what they are really thinking. People engage in face saving behavior, where we try to present our best selves to others online. Anonymity lets people be more honest, without fear or repercussion. Online disinhibition allows people to separate their online actions from their face-to-face identity.

Posts and comments are anonymous. We do not know whether posts come from moms or not, how many people are posting, how many people are reading, and whether they are telling the truth or not in their posts. In future studies, pairing these data with qualitative interviews with YouBeMom participants would help us explain motivations for participating on this site.

For more details, please read the full paper

Designing Community-Based Online Sites for Parents


Online social networking platform for parents of middle school children to talk about and keep up with their children’s technology and social media use


  • 10 months of deployment
  • 133 participants
  • log data
  • focus groups


  • Parents may not easily switch from existing school communication platforms
  • that they are already familiar with
  • School support was critical for promoting adoption
  • Parents felt like they had too much technology in their lives and were not looking for more platforms to keep up with

For more details, please read the full paper